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1814-1905 - Norway Under Sweden

The year 1814 was perhaps the most eventful in Norway's history. At the beginning of the year the country was ruled by Denmark, an absolute monarchy under King Frederik VI. By the end of the year it was a constitutional monarchy in a union with Sweden. In the months between, Norway became an independent state, adopted its own constitution and chose its own king. Norway was forced to accept union with Sweden, but the Swedish king had to accept the Norwegian Constitution - a constitution that took precedence over the monarch.

Norway was governed as a province of Denmark, and remained under Danish domination until 1814. By the treaty of Kiel, January 14, 1814, Norway was ceded to the King of Sweden by the King of Denmark in return for assistance against Napoleon. But the Norwegian people declared themselves an independent kingdom to be governed by a constitutional monarchy and elected Prince Christian Frederick of Denmark as their King.

The ideals of the French enlightenment came relatively early to Norway. When the Norwegian founding fathers in 1814 drafted the Constitution, a copy of the U.S. Constitution was placed on the table of the Constitutional Commission. TheNorwegian constitution was adopted on May 17th 1814 by the Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll. This constitution is still in force and there have not been any major revisions of it, even if numerous amendments have been made. Norway's May 17th Constitution is the second oldest constitution in the world, onlythe U.S. Constitution from 1787 being older. It is a document upholding the civilreligion of the country, as does the U.S. Constitution. The Norwegian civil religion isof course related also to the position of the Norwegian state church and its religion.

The foreign Powers refused to recognise the election of Prince Christian Frederick, and it became increasingly evident that they would not recognize the complete independence of Norway. The Norwegian patriots were therefore glad to accept the offer of Charles John Bernadotte, Crown Prince of Sweden, to recognize the constitution of Norway on the condition that that kingdom should submit to a loose union with Sweden. So on August 14 a convention was made proclaiming the independence of Norway in union with Sweden. This was followed on November 4 by the election of Karl XIII as King of Norway.

By the act of November 4, 1814, the union was acknowledged by the Norwegian Storthing. According to a speech of the King to the Swedish Rigsdag, perfect equality was to obtain between the two kingdoms, but this "perfect equality", was, nevertheless, not established in practice, as diplomacy and foreign affairs, as well as the representation of both kingdoms at foreign courts, remained in the hands of the Swedish Government. But this was a practice based on no express right, as no such privilege was granted Sweden by the Act of Union.

The two countries were loosely joined, each having its own constitution, but the two being united under one king. This arrangement lasted throughout the nineteenth century, because of the moderation and prudence of the rulers, but the interests of the two peoples were incompatible and divergent. The Swedish kings always desired to make their state stronger by bringing about a closer union of the two countries, and having the two peoples cherish the same interests in common; the people of Norway, with different ideas and desires, wished that there were no union at all, and strove to have it made looser. Sweden was larger and more populous, but while there was more wealth in the country, wealth and power were concentrated in the hands of nobles and aristocracy, leaving the mass of the people without property or political power. The government was vested entirely in the hands of the king, checked, when at all, only by an assembly of estates, something like those which had disappeared in England and Spain long before, and like those which had been resurrected in France in 1789.

The first real struggle between the legislature and the executive was upon the issue of the abolition of the privileges of the nobility. The liberal law of suffrage had produced, at the very first election, an anti-feudal majority in the Storthing ; and, in the session of 1816, it laid its hand at once upon the mediaeval immunities and franchises of the nobles, abolishing them all with a single sweep. The king, Charles XIII., hardly knew whether to regard this act as an attempt to change the constitution or as a simple project of law. It certainly was questionable. It is true that these immunities and privileges were not secured to the nobles in the constitution, but they furnished a most substantial and important element in the conditions and relations of the society upon which the constitution was founded. This project sought, therefore, to change the social basis of the constitution, if not the constitution itself. The view prevailed, however, both in the Storthing and the ministry, that the measure was not to be regarded as a proposed amendment to the constitution, and that it was subject, therefore, only to the suspensive veto of the crown. This the king interposed. In the session of 1819, the Storthing re-enacted the project, and the new king, Charles XIV. John (Bernadotte), vetoed it again. In the session of 1821, the Storthing manifested its determination to pass the measure for the third time. The king, who was not at all so devoted to the interests of the nobles as his predecessor had been, because, among other things, of the plots which they had formed against his succession in 1817, cared far less about the content of the bill than the threatened manner of its enactment. His chief thought was, how to save himself from the chagrin of an overridden veto. He therefore proposed a compromise to the Storthing, offering to agree to a curtailment of the immunities and privileges of the noble class, with indemnification for the loss. The Storthing yielded, however, only so far as to give promise of indemnification. The king chose to sign the bill in this form rather than suffer his authority to be successfully defied.

During the period from c. 1820 to 1900, many of the masterpieces in the art history of Norway werecreated. The artists and their high quality works are unquestionably a part of the country's independent history and were a corner stone of Norway's identity. Most of the artists went abroad to study, some of the well-known academies were in Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, Munich, Karlsruhe, Berlin, Paris and Rome. In general they returned home after a certain time, but some settled down on a permanent base. A few became even professors at the academies in their new country. However almost with no exception, all of them made Norway tours regularly in order to get inspired by the Norwegian scenery, the Fiords,the Lakes, the Mountains and the People. One of the most distinctive features of the period is the word "quality". The artistic quality is certainly striking, but also the technical skill.

Bernadotte, the citizen king, died in 1844, and his son Oscar I. succeeded to the throne. The new king had been, while prince, viceroy of Norway, and was much beloved by the Norwegians. With his accession, the struggle between the crown and the Storthing over the interpretation of the constitution ceased. He made no propositions for a change of the organic law, and they were more generous towards him in all their legislative acts. He seemed to have a truly statesmanlike conception of the international relations and the international calling of his state. He recognized in Russia his most dangerous enemy, and in Germany and England his most sincere friends.

In Norway, while the resources of the country were little and the soil was poor, the land had become divided among a large number of small farmers, there was much democratic feeling, and the constitution adopted in 1814 put the government in the hands of a Storthing or legislature, in which the representatives were elected by voters whose franchise depended upon a low property qualification. In the nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution gradually became important in Sweden, and then manufacturing was added to her agriculture. In Norway commerce was developed until the Norwegian merchant marine was the fourth largest in the world. In foreign relations Norway was drawn more and more toward England and France, while Sweden, resenting the Russian seizure of Finland, and always fearing further Russian expansion toward the sea, more and more imitated Germany's methods and sympathized with her purpose and desires.

The two peoples drew ever further apart. In 1863 a Swedish constitution was granted, with a parliament like those of western Europe, but great power was left to the king and also to the wealthy upper classes. Meanwhile, Norway became increasingly liberal and democratic. Prior to the accession of Oscar II., in 1872, the preponderating fact in the political development of the kingdom was the gradual growth of parliamentary power on the part of the representatives of the peasantry. Between 1814 and 1830 the business of the Storthing was conducted almost wholly by members of the upper and official classes, but during the decade 1830-1840 the peasantry rose to the position of a highly influential class in the public affairs of the nation. The first of the socalled "peasant Storthings" was that of 1833. In it the peasant representatives numbered forty-five, upwards of half of the body. Under the leadership of Ole Ueland, who was a member of every Storthing between 1833 and 1869, the peasant party made its paramount issue, as a rule, the reduction of taxation and the practice of economy in the national finances.

After 1870 the intensification of the Swedish-Norwegian question led to the drawing afresh of party lines, and until the separation of 1905, the new grouping continued fairly stable. By the amalgamation of the peasant party, led by Jaabaek, and the so-called "lawyers" party, led by Johan Sverdrup, there came into being in the seventies a great Liberal party (the Venstre, or Left) whose fundamental purpose was to safeguard the liberties of Norway as against Swedish aggression.

Until 1884 this party of nationalism was obliged to content itself with the role of opposition. Governmental control was lodged as yet in the Conservatives, whose attitude toward Sweden was distinctly conciliatory. In 1880 the Conservative leader, Frederick Stang, resigned the premiership, but his successor was another Conservative, Selmer. At the elections of 1882 the Liberals obtained no fewer than 82 of the 114 seats in the Storthing. Still the Conservatives refused to yield.

In the meantime the Odelsthing had brought the entire ministry to impeachment before the Rigsret for having advised the king to interpose his veto to the measure giving ministers seats in Parliament. Early in 1883 Selmer and seven of his colleagues were sentenced to forfeiture of their offices, and the remaining three were fined. March u, 1884, the king announced his purpose to abide by the decision of the court, distasteful to him as it was, and the Selmer cabinet was requested to resign. An attempt to prolong yet further the tenure of the Conservatives failed completely, and, June 23, 1884, the king sent for Sverdrup and authorized the formation of the first Liberal ministry in Norwegian history. The principal achievement of the new government was the final enactment of the long-contested measure according parliamentary seats to ministers. To this project the king at last gave his consent.

In 1884 manhood suffrage was established. In 1901 she gave the municipal franchise to women taxpayers, and six years later followed this by granting the parliamentary franchise to women and allowing them to sit in the Storthing. Moreover, in Norway a great literary national revival was carried on, so that the people became more conscious of their nationality and more eager for complete independence. For a long time they insisted that they should have a separate flag, and particularly that their immense shipping entitled them to appoint their own consuls abroad. Sweden refused to allow this, and great tension arose, though, because of restraint and moderation on both sides, there was never a resort to arms.

The Sverdrup ministry endured almost exactly four years. In 1887 the party supporting it split upon a question of ecclesiastical policy, and at the elections of 1888 the Conservatives obtained fifty-one seats, while of the sixtythree Liberals returned not more than twenty-six were really in sympathy with Sverdrup. July 12, 1889, Sverdrup and his colleagues resigned. Then followed a rapid succession of ministries, practically every one of which met its fate, sooner or later, upon some question pertaining to the Swedish union: (1) that of Emil Stang 1 (Conservative), July 12, 1889, to March 5, 1891; (2) that of Johannes Steen (Liberal), which lasted until April, 1893; (3) a second Stang ministry, to February, 1895; and (4) the coalition ministry of Professor Hagerup, to February, 1898.

At the elections of 1897 the Liberals won a signal victory, carrying seventy-nine of the one hundred fourteen seats, and in February of the next year there was established a second Steen ministry, under whose direction, as has appeared, there was carried the law introducing manhood suffrage. Steen retired in April, 1902, and another Liberal government, that of Blehr, held office until October, 1903. At the elections of 1903 the Conservatives and Moderates obtained sixty-three seats, the Liberals fifty, and the Socialists four. A second Hagerup ministry filled the period between October 23, 1903, and March i, 1905, and upon its retirement there was constituted, under circumstances which involved temporarily the all but complete annihilation of party lines, a coalition ministry under Christian Michelsen, at whose hands was brought about immediately the separation from Sweden and the constitutional readjustments of 1905.

Finally, in 1905, the Storthing declared the independence of Norway. The dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden was the result of a conflict over the question of a separate Norwegian consular service. The fact that Norway did not have its own foreign service missions, and was subordinate to Sweden in all matters of foreign policy, was a clear indication of Norway's lesser role in the union. A new sense of national identity was emerging in Norway and this issue became extremely controversial.

The Storting (Norwegian national assembly) adopted a decision to establish a Norwegian consular service but King Oscar II refused to sanction it. As a result, the Norwegian Government resigned. The King was not able to appoint a new government, which meant that the union between the two countries under a common king was no longer a reality. On 7 June 1905 the Storting passed a resolution unilaterally dissolving the union.

The Swedes, more powerful though they were, wisely decided not to try to force their neighbors back into a distasteful allegiance of no use to themselves, and so they acceded to the separation. A Danish prince was invited to be king, but the monarchy was as limited and as democratic as in England. In 1907 Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia signed a treaty with Norwegian representatives guaranteeing the integrity and also the neutrality of Norway. Good relations between the two Scandinavian countries were soon resumed, despite the fact that some resentment lingered in Sweden. The two countries, accordingly, proceeded peaceably on their separate ways.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:17 ZULU